Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Patrick Daly, article for Superintendent’s Newsletter

The ipad in Education

It seems that the ipad in education is making a lot of news in recent months.  Some schools are purchasing ipads for all students, while others are making headlines for placing mobile devices in the hands of all kindergarteners!  Analysts have suggested that the ipad may be the fastest adopted device of all time, and the crowds playing with the floor models at the Apple store certainly indicate its incredible popularity.  But can it really change education?  And if so, how?

Engagement is Key

If we walk into a classroom featuring interactive learning it is clear that the students are excited and engaged in their lessons.  The ipad demonstrations often reveal a classroom of students who are transfixed with the devices as soon as the cart is rolled into the room.  Of course, it is not the technology that makes the lesson, but it certainly can enhance the experience.

The ipad is touch sensitive.  Imagine a young learner tracing his letters directly on the screen and receiving instant feedback.  Imagine a middle school student using her fingers to click on the tools to dissect a frog and peeling back the layers to expose the organs, a virtual lab so realistic that you can nearly smell to formaldehyde.   Imagine a high school student creating presentations collaboratively with a small group and then projecting that information on a screen for the entire class.  These are the highest levels of learning (applying, evaluating, creating) and engaging all students in these activities is our vision as a district.

So what can it do?  This multi-functional device offers students not only the ability to type a paper, search the internet, and watch videos, as they could do on a laptop, but also many new features never before available on existing devices.  The ipad is lightweight, only 1.5 pounds, and small enough to slip into a notebook.  With a minimum storage capacity of 16 GB it could easily store a year’s worth of textbooks, videos, and interactive applications (apps).  There are apps that allow students to enter their answers for the teacher to instantly demonstrate their understanding, similar to a clicker polling device.  Another app allows the students to hold the ipad up to the sky to see which celestial bodies are beyond the classroom walls, trees, and city lights.  Still others allow for the creation of movies, the playing of musical instruments, and advanced photo-editing.  With over 65,000 apps made just for the ipad, the possibilities are endless.

Teachers, like their students, will be approaching learning in new ways.  In many schools the teachers are creating their own textbooks by gathering information and videos from the internet and publishing to the ipad.  With the ipads in the hands of the students the role of the educator will be to help the students discover the best and most trustworthy information, since so much is readily available at their fingertips.  Teacher-driven lectures will increasingly give way to student-driven project-based learning opportunities, and the tasks of remembering facts and dates will be replaced by the skills of using those facts and dates to create knew ideas, conclusions, solutions, and hypotheses. 

One thing is clear with the ipad; the educators using the technology for instructional purposes will need not only a lot of training with the device itself but also in how the device will change the way in which they teach.  The technology alone is not a game changer, but the right tools in the hands of an innovative and inspiring teacher can transform a very good student experience into one that is truly great.